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Damaged Goods: Chapter 8


Bailey

Altruistic intentions aside, I’m not handling this whole Lev-Thalia thing very well.

Actually, I think it’d be fair to say I’m not handling it at all. I point-blank ignore Lev, even though I miss him like a limb.

He’s changed, and I’m only now seeing how far he’s come from the kid I’ve coddled all my life. Lev is no longer the boy next door. Now he’s the man in the mansion across the street.

A man who is working on his vintage cars outside in the sun, shirtless, grease marring his sweaty, tan six-pack, which is flexing deliciously each time he takes a breath.

For the first time in my life, my emotions override my logic. That scene two days ago in my backyard keeps playing in my head.

Why did I say those hurtful things to him? Well, he did goad me. Said I was jealous of his girlfriend. Dared me to have sex with him. And I may or may not have found some leftover painkillers that same morning, so perhaps I was a teeny-tiny bit high.

Thing is, I have an INFP personality. I’m the mediator. The caregiver. I avoid conflicts at all costs and normally find it easy to forgive people, not that Lev owes me an apology for dating someone. It’s just that the news hit me surprisingly hard.

The idea of Levy holding someone else, kissing someone else, loving someone else…

The worst part is, I get off on the attention he gives me, even when it’s negative. That’s why I’m being so horrible to him. The way he seeks me out as I ignore, push, and punish him…it’s a sick thrill and not one I’m proud of. But I can’t stop.

A sound jars me from my position making snow angels on my bed. It’s coming from outside my window and is faintly familiar. I charge up from my bed and fling my bedroom window open, poking my upper body out as I lean over the windowsill.

Lev is here. He positioned himself outside my window, standing in the pouring rain with a boombox on his shoulder. “When Doves Cry” is playing on full blast. I scowl at him.

“People are sleeping here!” I chide him. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

He rolls his eyes, repositioning the boombox on his crazy huge deltoids. “At nine in the evening? I don’t think so. Come on down, Dove.”

“I can’t.” I bite down on my lower lip.

He nods, tapping his temple. “That’s right. Now I remember. You’re the only nineteen-year-old I know who’s grounded.”

I duck beneath my window, find something—a glittery pen—and toss it at him in retaliation. It is so first grade, laughter clogs my throat, but it’s something I had never allowed myself to do before. Just be silly.

“We’re playing like that, huh?” His eyebrows jump to the sky, and he puts the boombox down, shoves his hand into his pocket, and rummages for ammo.

He finds a black credit card. “Hope you’re ready for that papercut, Followhill!” He throws it at me.

He has a great throw—much to no one’s surprise—and it hits me right in the forehead. I gasp. He laughs. I pick up the book I’m reading—an honest to Marx sacred book—and hurl it on his chest.

He throws a granola bar at me.

“Why do you have a granola bar in your pocket?” I yell.

“Why not?” It’s still raining and he looks like a mess. A beautiful mess. “I’m a growing boy, okay? Always hungry.”

“You’re already too big for some houses.”

“I’m just the right size for your body, though. Promise.”

Something loosens in my chest. My anxiety uncurling some.

“Hey, I thought about what you said.” He kicks the stereo to shut it up, because we can barely hear each other over the rain and music. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m the sun. But you’re the sky, and I can’t live without you. You know how the sky’s been looking since you moved to Juilliard?” he asks. My heart is crumpled like a piece of discarded paper, an unimpressive sketch, in my chest.

He holds my gaze through the dark. “It is always dark.”


When Lev suggested he break up with Thalia, I secretly waited for it to happen. But it didn’t. Because here she is, three days later, in my basement, wearing a pink Alo Yoga sculpt bra and matching shorts and looking like a Pinterest-worthy It Girl.

Thalia is collecting her hair into a messy bun and grabs the ballet barre, extending her arms and dropping her ass to the floor. “Like, how am I even supposed to plan around Lev’s college arrangements when he still has no idea where he wants to go?” She arches her back, exhibiting insane dexterity. “It’s like he doesn’t even want to talk about it.”

My tibia, spine, and muscles are still sore and tender. But I push through, working day and night at the studio, dancing my life away. I join Thalia and start stretching, ignoring the persistent pain.

“Have you talked to him about it?” I roll my shoulders.

“Tried to. He gets really frustrated whenever I mention college.”

That’s because he doesn’t want to go to college. He wants to go to the Air Force Academy in Colorado and become a fighter jet pilot. I shouldn’t feel gleeful that I know things she doesn’t about him, but I am. Katia, my college roommate, would be proud. I turned into a petty, mean thing after all.

“You need to be honest with him. Tell him you’re worried about what the future holds for both of you guys.” I slide my hands off the barre, doing a full seated forward fold.

Thalia does the same. Her range of motion is much better than mine. She also has a rounder ass, more muscular legs, and fuller breasts.

Why am I comparing myself to her?

Because Lev has probably visited every hole in her body.

“Yeah, maybe.” She sighs, descending gracefully into a pigeon stretch. “But I just got a letter of acceptance from LSU and it’s a really good opportunity for me.”

“You should totally take it,” I say, and not because I want to break them up but because it really is a great school. I try to get into a pigeon stretch, but my muscles are killing me. Dove my ass. My spine is throbbing. Thalia leans deeper into her stretch.

Is she made out of frigging Play-Doh?

“Our love is like an addiction, though. Do you know what I mean?”

I swallow daggers. “Not really.”

She studies me intently. “We can’t get enough of each other.”

The door to the basement slams suddenly, and my sister’s voice pierces through it like a bullet. “Open up, Bailey!”

I press my finger to my mouth to motion for Thalia to stay quiet.

She looks a little confused but doesn’t argue. Daria, however, is in a hella confrontational mood. “Bitch, I made my way from NorCal because your ass embarrassed me. You better open up or we’re gonna have a problem.”

I swallow but don’t answer.

“You know I can take you, Bailey,” Daria warns. “I weigh more and these coffin nails are sharp at the edges. Don’t try me.”

Thalia and I remain still for a full minute, not even breathing. I feel so horrible doing this to my sister, but again, my anxiety doesn’t let me face her a minute sooner than I absolutely have to. To see the disappointment on her face when she sees me…my injuries…my scars—I just can’t take it.

“Oh, screw you, Bails. For real now!” She kicks the door in frustration. “Out of all the things you could’ve become, you chose to become a coward.”

I can practically envision Daria throwing her hands in the air and trudging back upstairs. My eyes sting with unshed tears, and it feels like my inner organs are made out of lead, they’re so heavy.

“Wow. Harsh words. Daria really is as bad as everyone said she was, huh?” Oblivious to my internal meltdown, Thalia does a backbend bridge, raising her feet up in the air into an unsupported candlestick, all the way up to a perfect handstand.

She’s in better shape than most people at Juilliard, and I can’t stop staring. I feel like a pile of haphazardly arranged bones and cell tissue in comparison.

“No,” I say quietly. “She’s not bad at all. She’s…” the best. “She’s amazing. She’s my sister.”

“Sorry.” Thalia slants her gaze my way, not even breaking a sweat. “What’s up? Do I look bloated? Ugh, I feel so self-conscious. Lev hasn’t touched me in over two weeks.”

I want to vomit. No, I need to vomit. Not that I didn’t know they were having sex beforehand. I mean, they’re together. Maybe I should be happy because he hasn’t done it with her since I’ve been back?

My head is such a mess, I don’t even know what I’m feeling anymore. The only thing I know is that this hurts even more than my body does.

Thalia glides to a sitting position, frowning. “Bailey, look at you, you’re green. Ohmigod, I’m so stupid.” She puts a hand over my back, rubbing in circles. “I totally forgot Lev is like a brother to you. It’s probably so gross to hear about him doing the nasty with his girlfriend.”

“It’s fine.” I attempt a smile.

“Kind of like hearing your parents having sex in the other room when they think no one’s home. I mean, don’t you call his dad Uncle Dean and shit?”

I hold my stomach, about to barf. “Yup. Point taken. We can change the subject now.”

“Daria?”

I shake my head harder.

She looks around helplessly, trying to find a topic to sink her teeth into. “This studio is huge! Please tell me you’re taking advantage and practicing here until your legs break, ha-ha.”

She hops up, walks over to the edge of the room, runs into momentum, and does the Biles on the hardwood. Triple twisting, double back, perfectly executed. I’m still on the floor, malnourished and wilting. In a desperate attempt not to look completely useless, I try a simple front split. My lower back snaps loudly—crap, did I break a small bone?—and it feels like someone shot me there.

“Ugh,” I grunt.

Thalia tilts her head in confusion. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah.” I pull my legs into crisscross applesauce. “It’s just…Marx, the pain is just so persistent. I thought I’d be way better by now.”

Thalia huddles toward me, concern flooding her face. She puts a hand on my shoulder. “Maybe we should stop. Juilliard is not worth killing yourself over. It’s a great prospect but at what cost?”

I nod, breathing sharply through my nose. “Yeah. You’re right.”

“Not everyone is cut out for competitive sports. I mean, Lev and I are kind of similar in that way that we don’t let the pressure get to us. It takes a certain personality. Not everyone has one.”

I stare at her blankly, feeling hot and cold and cloudy-headed all at the same time. She snaps her fingers, her eyes lighting up. “Hey, did I tell you about my friend Fern, who dropped out of Texas Christian University’s ballet program? She became a Zumba instructor. I can’t tell you how fulfilled she is today!”

But I don’t want to become a Zumba instructor. I want to do ballet. And Juilliard is where you do it professionally, so it’s a stepping stone I cannot skip. It’s what I’ve worked for since the day I was born. I have no other identity.

Being a ballerina is the only thing that matters. I clutch on to Thalia’s arm just when she is about to stand up.

“I can’t lose my spot there,” I say desperately, as though she has any weight in the decision. Thalia looks a little sad. She pities me. Why wouldn’t she? She got the boy, the talent, and the opportunity. I got nothing.

“Bailey.” She shakes my touch off gently. “You can’t even stretch properly. I think training is off the table right now.”

“Oh, but I could train. If only I had painkillers.” I suck in a breath. Real painkillers. And lots of them. Not the stuff I have found lying around home. Those feel like Skittles.

She sighs, looking away from me. I have a feeling she wants to say something more.

“What? Tell me.” I dig my fingers into her skin. “Do you know somewhere I can get some?”

“Bailey, please.” She heads for her bottle of water, swinging her hips lightly. “That’s a terrible idea.”

I chase her, limping on my busted leg. “Come on!” I beg. “I have to get out of here. Go back to Juilliard…”

Then an idea pops into my head. A manipulative, horrible idea but one that might nudge her in the right direction.

“You know Lev’ll stay here if I’m not okay, right? We’ve always held each other back. When one of us is in trouble, the other stops everything and goes to their rescue. It’s totally toxic. He’ll never leave here as long as I’m around.”

That makes her stop. She closes her eyes, taking a sip of her water. “You’re that close?”

“Dude!” I throw my hands in the air. “I was there when his mom died. You don’t stand a chance.”

I hate myself. I feel sick to my stomach. I’m using Rosie’s death to score. I officially stooped to the lowest form of human I could become. I think. Thalia’s face twists in horror.

“Look, I know you’re not an addict. Sports injuries aren’t something new to me. Had them plenty of times. If you’re really serious about getting back to Juilliard…” She trails off.

Hope blooms in my chest. “Yes?”

Thalia presses her lips for a moment, then sighs. “I know someone. He sells prescription drugs. They’re legit, regulated; his dad owns the CVS on Soledad Avenue. But if I find out you’re using dangerously, Bailey…” She shakes her head. “I’m telling Lev.”

There’s a fleeting moment of clarity where I realize I have an opportunity to kick the habit and turn my back on the drugs and that maybe I should tell her to forget the entire thing.

But then Thalia grabs her backpack, takes out a notebook, rips a page out of it, and unlocks her phone. She starts scribbling down a number on the piece of paper. “His name is Sydney. He looks like a dork, but trust me, he’s connected as fuck.”

Thalia waltzes toward me, her movements agile and purposeful.

The way mine were before I accumulated enough injuries to last an entire NBA season. She folds the paper and tucks it into the elastic of my leggings. “Just do me a favor?”

“Don’t tell Lev?” I fight an eye roll.

She smiles. “You know how he is.”

“Yeah.” Never trust a person who tells you to keep secrets from people who care about you.

I walk Thalia back to the front door and close it behind her. My sister is upstairs, slinging her Hermes bag over her shoulder. She peers out the window, probably waiting for an Uber.

I put my hand on my sister’s shoulder, not really feeling anything, and she jerks back, like I’m a stranger at a train station trying to grope her.

She hikes her bag up her shoulder with a scowl, and it’s all there in her eyes. The pain. The rejection. The confusion.

“You’re really far gone, aren’t you?” She scoffs. “I caught an emergency flight to have a heart-to-heart with you, and you locked yourself in the basement with this snake with a blond wig instead.”

My jaw drops. “Thalia’s nice.”

She tips her head back and laughs humorlessly. “Thalia is a manipulator. Trust me, it takes one to know one. She’s probably planning your demise right now, as we speak.”

“How do you—”

“Heard enough through the door before giving up on you.”

My head is spinning. I know I deserve her wrath, but I feel so sorry for myself that everyone isn’t cutting me slack.

“You’ve given up on me?” I choke out.

No matter how bad things were with Daria when she was a teenager, she always loved me. I was as sure of it as the sun rising in the east. My sister always had my back.

She opens her mouth, just when a luxurious BMW slips into the cul-de-sac to take her to the airport.

“No, sweetie. You did that to yourself. If life has taught me one lesson, it’s that you need to take accountability for the situations you insert yourself into. Let me know when I can help. Because that front-row ticket to your demise? I don’t want it.”

Chapter

Bailey

An entire lifetime passes in the days Lev and I are in the same town, on the same street, but not on the same page.

Kingdoms rise. Empires fall. Somehow, I don’t call Sydney. I don’t throw away the piece of paper with his number, either. I let it burn a hole in the bottom of my nightstand drawer while I contemplate taking a swim in the ocean and never swimming back to shore.

I’m lying face down on my bed when Mom bulldozes into my room. She stopped knocking when I first came home from the hospital, and I know it’s because she doesn’t trust me with a boiled egg, let alone to not to try to get high on some innocent home supplies.

“Hello, Mother.” My voice is muffled by my pillow.

“Darling girl.” Her voice holds a note of exasperation. “Your father and I are taking leave of our roles as your bloodthirsty, tyrannical guards and will be attending the theater tonight.”

They must be having one of their quadruplet dates with Baron and Millie, Trent and Edie, and Dean and (sometimes) Dixie.

“What’re you watching?” I lift my head, pretending it matters and that I’m not completely numb and dead inside.

Mom sees this as an invitation to take a seat on the edge of my bed. My room, like the rest of my pre-drug life, is flawless.

White, upholstered queen bed, pastel pink walls, fairy string lights clipped with Polaroid pictures of all my friends and family, an elaborated vanity and a shelf with my favorite poetry books—all hardcovers, customized sprayed edges, and in pristine condition. Once upon a time, the same could be said about their owner.

“OKLAHOMA!” Mom says. “All capitals, with an exclamation point at the end, in case you were wondering.”

“Sounds…frenetic,” I murmur. “What’s it about?”

“It’s a musical. Pretty well-known, actually. I can take you if you want.” Mom is all dolled up. It occurs to me she and Dad haven’t gone out once since my return. They usually went on weekly dates. I killed their social life, then shot it in the head for good measure in case it still had a pulse. They must hate me.

Join the club, folks.

“As lovely as it sounds, I’m beat.” I force a smile. “But you go enjoy OKLAHOMA! in all capitals and an exclamation point. I’ll be fine alone. Don’t worry.”

“I’m not worried,” she says airily. “Lev will be staying here while we’re gone to make sure your needs are met.”

This makes me shoot up from my bed like it’s on fire and stand in front of her, an angry porcupine, all spiked up and ready to stab someone. “My needs are to not see that douchebag’s face right now.”

“Oh.” She hitches a shoulder up. “Well, that specific need won’t be met, I guess.”

“You’re shitting me, right?”

Mom blinks slowly and retorts, “Actually, I had you vaginally. Not for your lack of trying to make me get a C-section. You were breech the entire last trimester. Dr. Shulman had to turn yo—”

“Not funny, Mom.” I rake my fingers through my hair, shaking all over. “I’m not being babysat by Lev Cole. I was the one who babysat him, for chrissake!”

“You were different back then. And you were left together unsupervised because we trusted both of you not to burn down the house or do hard drugs,” she says tersely. “Only one of you is still trusted not to do those things—and I thought you were still friends.”

I want to scream.

To announce Lev Cole isn’t that perfect.

That while I was a senior and he was a junior, I drove him home from parties plenty of times because he was too shit-faced to recognize the color of his own car. That he once broke Tyler Barrera’s nose because he pinched my ass.

That when he found out Travis Tran gave me my first kiss, Lev—then a freshman—dangled the poor guy from the roof of the mall and threatened to use Travis’s spine as anal beads.

That Lev has anger issues. Plenty of them. That he would bungee-jump without a rope if someone would let him and that he loves participating in illegal car races because fast machinery gives him a thrill.

Lev isn’t some tortured hero. He is explosive, jealous, possessive, and more toxic than a straight shot of laundry detergent.

He’s just great at hiding it and can probably get away with a lot more because he is a boy. And boys will be boys, right?

Pointing a finger at Mom, I warn, “If you care about our relationship even a little bit, you will cancel with Lev and let me stay alone.”

Mom stands up, smoothing her white-belted, feather-hemmed Miu Miu dress. “I care about our relationship very deeply, but I value your well-being above all else. Lev will be here any minute now. I’m not sure what the deal is between you two, but one thing has stood the test of time, and that is the fact that Lev loves you far more than he loves himself and will never let anything happen to you. So put on your big girl pants…any pants would be good, actually.”

Her eyes drop to my bare legs. “Swallow your pride and start taking the help people offer you.”

She turns around and leaves my room. I stalk after her. Dad ambushes me in the hallway, blocking my way. He fills the space like a tank.

Why is every man in my life either a past footballer or a current one? I don’t deal with humans; I deal with industrial fridges. Mom hurries down the stairs while I scream at her that she is ruining my life. My entire adolescence I managed to dodge being a cliché only to get to this.

“Dad!” I growl, balling my fists. “What is this nonsense about Lev babysitting me?”

“I’m sorry our concern is an inconvenience to you, but you chose not to check into rehab, so we brought rehab to you.” He opens his arms in a game-show host manner, and I want to throttle him, I’m so on edge. “Congratulations.”

Folding my arms over my chest, I narrow my eyes at him. “You’re being a helicopter parent.”

“Bailey, baby, I’m a Boeing 777 parent and damn proud of it. I will destroy the world to keep my girls safe. Lev is not gonna take his eyes off you. Normally, that pisses me off. But nowadays, it’s a good thing. I trust him to look after you. End of discussion.”

He takes the stairs down. I’m bolting after him manically, barefoot and only wearing an oversized hoodie to hide my panties.

I come to a screeching halt when I get to the landing. Lev is already here, in gray sweatpants and a black muscle shirt, looking fifty shades of orgasmic. Seriously?

Muscle shirt and gray sweatpants?

I have to stop finding him attractive. And being mean to him for no reason. And wondering what the tip of his tongue would feel like if it flicked my clit.

He glares at his phone, refusing to acknowledge me. It’s been days since he came over with his boombox, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s not because he is giving me space but because he legit hates the new me. If he does, I can’t exactly blame him.

My parents wander off. Dad to the garage to start the car, Mom to grab her purse and phone. Welp, guess it’s showtime. And since I have no idea who I am anymore, acting should be easy.

“Look what the cat dragged in.” I amble over to him, tipping my chin up proudly.

Lev still doesn’t look up from his phone, his thumbs flying across the screen. “Better to be a dragged cat than a drugged-up pussy.”

“Hmm. Babysitting the kid next door on a Friday night. Tell me you’re a loser without telling me you’re a loser.” I pout.

Lev smiles, lifting his eyes from his phone momentarily. “Aw, I like this game—how about a college dropout who needs a high school babysitter because her parents don’t trust her to stay sober?” He winks. “How far up is this on the loser-meter?”

Okay. That hurt. Like a crash between a semitrailer and an airplane.

“I can’t believe you just said that,” I moan. New Bailey is definitely not a resilient one. “Take that back,” I demand.

“Piss into a cup.” He yawns. “And I just might.”

Mom pops out of the living room, clutching her Birkin bag to her waist. “Have fun, you two. Mwah!” She kisses my cheeks. “Thank you so much, Levy.” She pats his buzzed head, and a violent urge to run my fingers through the fuzz takes over me. I want to know what it feels like too.

“Anytime, Mel.” He pecks her cheeks. Kiss ass.

The door closes behind us and we’re alone.

“I’m DoorDashing some pho.” He points at his phone.

“I hope you choke on it.” I smile, batting my eyelashes.

“On soup? Unlikely. I’ll order those shrimp rice roll thingies. With the peanut butter sauce. Those are a motherfucker to swallow.”

“Kindly evacuate yourself from my line of vision,” I grumble, trudging to the couch. I could go upstairs to my room, but this is my territory. I grab the remote with a huff.

A nasty smirk slashes his beautiful face. “Trust me, no part of me wants to be here any more than you do. I’m missing out on three parties right now. Unfortunately for both of us, I feel obligated to take care of you. Don’t mistake my high morals for affection.”

“High morals!” I splutter, aggressively punching remote buttons. “Is that what you call stringing Thalia along and asking your best friend to piss into a cup?”

“When have I ever asked Grim to piss into a cup?” he quips back.

One thing is for sure—Lev is no longer a fan of mine.

“You’re not funny,” I announce.

“And you’re not dressed.” He gets into my face, grabbing the remote from my hand. “Go upstairs and put some pants on. Until you piss into a cup, you’re not my best friend, the great Bailey Followhill.”

“Then what am I?” I ask, holding his gaze, hope almost resurrected at the thought of him calling me his current best friend. Or maybe he means I can be his future girlfr…

There’s a beat. I feel like he swallowed all the oxygen in the room. His nostrils flare.

“You’re just a stranger who, unfortunately, knows all my secrets.”


Just to spite him, I end up putting on pants so short, Lev could give me a vaginal exam without removing them.

Then I go back downstairs and we both eat our takeout silently. Well, he eats. I haven’t had an appetite in months. Lev puts a football recap program on TV, but I know he’s not really watching. I move my noodles around the broth with my chopsticks.

“So did you lose the game tonight?” I ask derisively.

He doesn’t rip his gaze from the TV. “Nope. Won.”

“Aww. Did Thalia wear your varsity jacket?”

“Nobody wears my varsity jacket.”

“Yikes. Ego trip much?” But of course, butterflies take flight inside my chest, telling me that there’s hope.

He looks up from his food. “Giving a girl my varsity jacket is a statement of ownership. I don’t own Thalia’s ass.”

The idea that Thalia tested me by giving me Sydney’s number goes through my head. But I decide that I’m being paranoid, even if Daria said she is manipulative.

“We don’t have to be enemies.” I clear my throat. “I might’ve been…a bit harsh with my treatment of you.”

He drops his spoon and chopsticks into his bowl noisily, aiming his stare at me like it’s the barrel of a gun. “Piss into a cup right fucking now to restore trust, Bailey. Put me out of my misery, and we’ll be best friends again.”

Somewhere deep in the back of my head, there’s a small voice that tells me Lev makes an excellent point and I’m just not ready to admit it yet.

“Know what? Forget it. I think our trust in each other has been irreparably broken.”

“Yeah?” Lev leans against the table. Marx, he is beautiful. The outline of his lips looks pencil-drawn, it’s so perfect. “And how exactly did I lose your trust? Don’t say Thalia.”

“You didn’t tell me you have a girlfriend.”

“I don’t have a fucking girlfriend!” He pounds the table, making everything fly an inch above the surface.

“I have a girl I have sex and hang out with. Occasionally. She knows the score. We’re not serious. And really, what were my options here?” he asks calmly. “Sit around and pine for the girl I love who told me not to wait for her because it’s never gonna happen between us? You said you didn’t want me, then punish me for being with someone else. You said you’d never forget me, then move away and cut all ties. You called me in the middle of the night, dying, but now won’t take a drug test. And you expect me to believe you’re even related to the Old Bailey? You don’t hold a candle to her. Not even a fucking damp match.”

I bang my palms on the table, standing up. “She looks exactly like me!”

He stands up too. His high cheekbones flushed pink. “Bullshit and a half.”

“Yes, she does! I—”

“She.” He bangs his fist on the table.

“Does.” Bang.

“Not.” Bang.

“Look anything like you.” Bang, bang, bang.

“Your beauty is unparalleled. You will always be the most beautiful girl in every room, in every country, in every goddamn continent, on every planet. You’re endgame, Bailey, so it kills me that you don’t want to play. Oh, and I cannot stop thinking about you, even when I know I’m better off forgetting you’ve ever existed.”

This sounds like a love declaration, and the high I get from his words is unmistakable.

“Maybe I do want to play,” I blurt out breathlessly from across the table. “Kiss me and find out.”

He shakes his head, looking sad and a little disappointed. “Nah. It’s not my best friend I’d be kissing. The person you are right now? Hot as shit but not my style.”

Maybe because I know he’s right, this pierces a hole straight through my soul.

“You were never in love with me, Lev,” I choke out. “You were just confused because we were always together.”

He holds my gaze steadily. “I am with every cell in your body. Admit it, Bailey. You fucking blew it. You ruined us because of your stupid insecurities. We could’ve been happy. Now look at us.”

“You seem happy,” I bite out.

He shakes his head, sighing.

Anger seizes my body. I toss the back of my palm against my bowl of soup and watch as it splatters against the credenza. Thick noodles crawl down the expensive wood. The fine china breaks. I storm upstairs like a toddler in a tantrum. I hear Lev quietly finishing his meal at the table, not bothering to run after me, to bargain, to apologize.

The boy I love just told me he loves me back and all I can feel is fury and despair.

Because maybe he is right. Maybe I did ruin everything because of my insecurities. Deep down, I’ve always known I wasn’t as beautiful or charming or engaging as my older sister. As talented as my mother. As badass as my dad.

I storm into my room and start opening all of my drawers, tossing clothes and underwear and knickknacks until I find what I’m searching for.

Last Christmas, I got prescribed some heavy-duty painkillers. I never took them with me to New York because I figured I’d try to kick the habit during the semester.

Now? Now it’s time to take the edge off.

I shove two down my throat and swallow. Then I start pacing.

Lev is in love with me. I’m in love with him. We should be together. I’m not even a real addict. I just spent weeks taking nothing other than low-grade painkillers, for crying out loud.

My phone pings on my bed with an incoming text. I tackle it, thinking it’s Lev, asking me to come downstairs and talk it out.

Thalia: Hiiiiiii. Whatcha up 2?

I like her, I do, but I also take her existence as a personal slight.

Bailey: Bored. You?

Thalia: Come to the beach. There’s a party!

Bailey: No can do. #HouseArrest, remember?

Thalia: I thought your parents went to a play or something???

So Lev told her. She knows he is babysitting me. Now I’m determined to go meet her at the beach just to prove a point.

Bailey: Yup. Your boyfriend won’t let me leave the house, though.

Thalia: If I distract him for a few minutes, would you be able to slip out?

Glancing out my bedroom window, I decide that yeah, I probably could.

I did it for four years, after Lev lost Rosie and I snuck into his bedroom every night. Other than a few summer camps away and the odd sick day, we slept together for the entire duration of my high school.

Bailey: Do your best, girl.

Thalia: 👍😈

A few seconds later, I hear Lev’s phone going off downstairs.

He answers. I can tell he is in a crappy mood by the clipped tone of his voice.

Cracking my window open, I slide down the roof and make my way to the ground. Whatever sound I’m making is drowned by Lev’s cutting words to Thalia.

“…unhinged if you think I’m going to leave Bailey and come meet you at some house party. What’s wrong with you, T?”

She is covering her tracks, making him think she’s somewhere else in case I get busted. Daria’s words dance along my skin. She’s a manipulator. Takes one to know one.

Daria used to wipe the floor with other mean girls. She was unmatched in the cunningness department.

“…no, I can’t bring her with. She’s an addict. There’ll be alcohol there. And drugs. It’s like bringing a gambler to Vegas, a sex addict to a whorehouse, a white, drunk chick to a karaoke bar—a recipe for disaster.”

Whatever Thalia says on the other line calms him down because he lets out a sigh. “Sorry. I’m just…frustrated. You have fun, yeah?”

My sneakers land softly on the lush grass of my parents’ front lawn. I turn around and bolt out of my street without looking back.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m at the beach. I pull my phone out of my pocket, about to text Thalia, when I spot her running toward me from a huge bonfire.

The low grumbles of the bass shake the loose sand beneath me as “I Want to Start a Religion With You” by Fireworks blasts through a stereo.

Thalia is wearing a tiny, white cotton dress and has golden star stickers on her tan, freckled face and I want to die because she is so, so, so much prettier than me, and if Lev is the sun and I am the sky, she is every single shining star, and maybe one day he’ll wake up and realize a starlit night is as beautiful as a clear summer day.

“Bailey!” She grabs my hands, tugging me to the sand. “I’m so glad you made it! You didn’t tell Lev I invited you, right?”

“What? No. I’m not a snitch.” Not anymore, anyway.

My body is humming with adrenaline from sneaking out. It’s also trembling from pain after that spontaneous jog. Those two painkillers must’ve been placebo or something.

The doctor prescribed you placebo? Are you listening to yourself? Next you’ll think there’s a 5G chip in your annual flu shot.

On the sand, there’s a bunch of people drinking and dancing.

She introduces me to some of them until she gets to the last one. A short, redheaded guy with shrewd eyes. “And this is Sydney,” she coos, plastering a kiss on his cheek.

Sydney. Sydney. Sydney.

Is this a trap? If so, I don’t want to admit it to myself. Not only because Thalia is my only company these days but also because I really, really need some painkillers.

It was one thing to avoid calling him. But now he is right in front of me, probably carrying a ton of them.

I sit on the sand in front of the fire and accept an uncapped bottle of beer from Thalia with no intention of drinking it. Painkillers aside, I never consume alcohol unless I open it myself.

“I heard you go to Juilliard.” One girl touches my elbow. She looks completely drunk, and something protective rises in me. Old Bailey would get her a cab home. “That was legit my dream. You must be so talented.”

“Thanks,” I mumble.

“She’s amazing!” A muscle twitches under Thalia’s eye. “I’ve had the honor of working out with her. Girl is fire.”

Fire? No. Fired? Maybe, if someone was dumb enough to give me a dancing job.

I know I sucked the time we trained together, but it’s nice of her to try to pump me up. Most of the girls I’ve been around are way too competitive.

“I go to Las Juntas.” The other girl nods. “But I hang out with Thalia, hoping Lev would show up and bring his best friend, Grim, along so I can make a move.”

Grim Kwon. I remember him. A dreamboat who speaks fluent sarcasm.

“I’m sure he’ll turn up one day,” I say.

The girl tilts her head to Thalia. “Even Lev doesn’t show up for this girl, so I’m not holding my breath.” Ouch. The girl hiccups, then proceeds to keel over and vomit between us. I nudge aside just in time, then put a hand on her back. “I’m calling you an Uber, dude. Time to go home.”

“Can’t afford one.”

“My treat.” I know she’s going to ruin my perfect five-star score, but I can’t chance anything happening to her.

Taking the girl up to the promenade and seeing her enter the cab of the Uber takes about ten minutes, and then I’m back by Thalia’s side.

Thalia puts her hand on Sydney’s shoulder and yawns. “Ugh. I have a history test to study for. I’ll need to pull an all-nighter.”

“Those were the best for me,” I squeak out lamely.

I loved studying through the night. There was something romantic and wholesome about it. If I weren’t destined to be a ballerina, I would have loved to study history or art. Somewhere cool and cozy in New England. Oversized sweaters and long nights at the library.

There were so many alternate universes I’ve never even entertained because of ballet. Which is why I need to fight for what I’ve already achieved even harder.

Thalia and Sydney both look at me like I spurted two more heads and a tail.

Thalia turns to a doped-looking Sydney. “Got any Adderall?”

He shoves a hand into his front pocket and tugs out bags with dozens of pills. My eyes widen. Now I’m sure this is a trap—it’s not very subtle, either.

Thalia bringing me here. Surrounding me with people so much younger than me. My mom would call them riffraff. And frankly, Old Bailey wouldn’t hang out with them either.

I don’t know if she is doing this to hurt me or as a scheme with Lev to show me that I really am an addict—I mean, am I an addict?—but it doesn’t matter anyway because I can’t stop myself.

As it turns out, something else might be stopping me—namely, capitalism.

“Get me three more and put it on my bill, okay?” Thalia pops an Adderall into her mouth and washes it down with beer. Lev’s love interest might be prettier than me, but she sure is depriving some village of its idiot.

“Mixing alcohol and Adderall is a no-no.” I pry the beer from between her fingers, tossing it into a nearby trash can.

“Wow, you really are a Goody Two-Shoes.” Thalia laughs and clutches my shoulders. “Lighten up, Bailey.”

“Anything I can get you?” Sydney glances my way, his corn-on-the-cob yellow smile on full display.

“Don’t have my wallet on me,” I answer shortly, trembling a little. From the cold, probably.

Thalia rolls her eyes. “I got you, boo. You can pay me back next time I come for a workout. Which should be soon, right? You said you were still gunning for Juilliard?”

“I…I don’t want anything. I’m okay.” I gulp. I don’t want to confirm the gossip about me that I’m a drug addict. I’m not.

Thalia stares at me for a few seconds, then grins. “No, you’re not. Come on. Let me help the pain stop.”

My voice is barely a whisper: “Okay.”

“What can I get ya?” Sydney scoots closer.

“Vicodin,” I hear myself say. “And…and Xanax if you have it.”

As soon as he slides the pills into my open palm, I shove one of each down my throat and swallow them dry. The rest I shove into my sneakers.

“That’s it, honey.” Thalia pats my back, grinning from ear to ear, and now I know for a fact that Daria was right about everything. This girl is mean. “All better now, huh?”

I don’t stick around for too long for obvious reasons.

I’ve no doubt Lev knows I snuck out by now. The sixty missed calls and five hundred threatening text messages are a slight clue.

Lev: Where the fuck are you?

Lev: You left the house?

Lev: YOU LEFT THE FUCKING HOUSE.

Lev: I swear to God, Bailey.

Lev: When I find you, and I WILL find you, drugs will be the least of your problems.

Lev: No need to piss into a cup. Just got my answer.


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